Louisville Looms Large

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As painful as the St. John's loss was last week, if the Bearcats win at Louisville on Sunday, they can erase the bitter taste of that defeat.


That's one of the great things about playing in the Big East.  While it's brutally difficult, there are plenty of opportunities to redeem yourself after an early season loss and enhance your NCAA resume.


"We're not even near the half-way point in the Big East and there are 5 ½ weeks left in the regular season," Mick Cronin said after Wednesday's win over USF.  "There's a long way to go and we've got to continue to strive to get better."


The Bearcats have 11 regular season games left and only three of them are against teams that are currently outside of the top 75 in the RPI ratings (USF #84, Providence #92, DePaul #190).  If Cincinnati wins those three games, the 'Cats would still need at least two "quality wins" to finish .500-or-better in league play.


That's why Sunday's game at Louisville looms so large.  The Cardinals suffered heavy losses from the team that won last year's Big East regular season and tournament titles, but a win at Freedom Hall would still look great on Selection Sunday. 


Since Louisville plays at Seton Hall on Thursday night, UC will have an extra day to prepare - but with no guarantee that Lance Stephenson will be on the court.


"He's got a sprained ankle and it's the same ankle that he sprained earlier in the year," Mick told me.  "He's a tough kid - trust me, I'll have to tie him down to stop him from playing on Sunday.  But I'm not going to put him in any jeopardy - if he's healthy he'll play, if he's not he won't.  We'll give him Thursday off and see how his ankle reacts and go day-to-day.  He's too important to put him out there if he's not ready, so hopefully he can practice on Friday and Saturday and see if he's ready to go."


The Bearcats played well offensively without Stephenson in their win over USF, scoring 78 points on 56% shooting with only 8 turnovers.  But those numbers will be tough to match against Louisville on its home court.


"Our issue is consistency," Cronin said.  "We need to know that every night, certain guys are going to show up offensively and we really haven't had that.  We've had different guys play well at different times, but we have to strive to get consistent play from three or four guys every night on the offensive end."


The Bearcats won the last time they visited Freedom Hall in January of 2008, as a team with John Williamson, Adam Hrycaniuk, and Jamual Warren in the starting lineup, beat a Louisville squad that included future NBA draft picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark.  Cincinnati is much more talented now according to Louisville senior Edgar Sosa.


"Cincinnati is a really tough, hard-nosed team that has most of its players back, and with a good recruit like Lance coming in, there's no telling how good they can be," Sosa told me at Big East Media Day.  "Cincinnati is definitely a team to watch out for in the Big East."


The Bearcats will look to prove Sosa right on Sunday.


* * * * *


Rick Bozich had an interesting story in the Louisville Courier-Journal on Thursday that makes the case that 10 Big East wins is the magic number for going to the NCAA tourney.


Since the Big East expanded to 16 schools four years ago, 27 of 30 teams that have finished above .500 in league play have been selected for the field of 65.


The exceptions were Providence (10-8 last year), West Virginia (9-7 in '06-07) and DePaul (9-7 in '06-07).


However, finishing at .500 has generally not been good enough since the league expanded as only one of four teams received an at-large bid.  Villanova qualified with a 9-9 record in '07-08, but Syracuse ('07-08), Providence ('06-07), and Cincinnati ('05-06) were left out with. 500 league records.


Syracuse finished below .500 (7-9) in '05-06, but rode Gerry McNamara to the Big East Tournament title.


* * * * *


Quick quiz:  What college basketball coach has made the following statements after his team's losses this season?


"The freshmen are trying ... but they haven't been through these wars yet.  If I live long enough, maybe it will help us a couple of years down the road. But I don't know if I can live through this."


"Some of our inexperienced players have to get experienced quickly, and a couple of experienced players have to play a heck of a lot better."


"We looked like a really inexperienced team in the first half. We reacted like an inexperienced team."


"This is the least experience and least depth I've ever had on the perimeter.  I always love big guys - but I've got to have guards. I've got to have perimeter players that know what they're doing."


"We both showed our inexperience.  We showed it in the first half and I think they showed it a little bit in the second half."


Answer:  North Carolina's Roy Williams.  His Tar Heels fell to 12-7 with a home loss vs. Wake Forest on Wednesday night.


I'd love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard


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